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  • E‑NEWSLETTER: MASS MEDIA IN BELARUS Bulletin #2(52) (May – July 2017)

    “The alleged infringe­ment of free­dom of mass media in our coun­try is a cliché from the rhetoric of the past. It doesn’t have any sense in the era of the Inter­net. And you will nev­er blame us for the lack of devel­op­ment and access to the Web,” – Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka, Pres­i­dent of Belarus.

    “No changes have occurred in the reg­u­la­to­ry sys­tem based on the licens­ing and reg­is­tra­tion of media out­lets by State-appoint­ed bod­ies and the Gov­ern­ment itself… Many  jour­nal­ists  con­tin­ue  to  work  with­out  accred­i­ta­tion,  as  the  sys­tem  is  designed to for­bid and crim­i­nal­ize any jour­nal­is­tic activ­i­ty by deny­ing accred­i­ta­tion,” – Mik­los Haraszti, Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on the sit­u­a­tion of human rights in Belarus.


    Situation in Mass Media Field in May – July 2017 (review)

    Main events in mass media field in May – July 2017

    Rating lists, indexes, statistics



    As soon as mass protest actions of ‘The Hot Spring — 2017’ came to an end, the num­ber of detained jour­nal­ists reduced.

    In par­tic­u­lar, there were reg­is­tered 5 cas­es of deten­tion of the kind with­in the peri­od under review. One of them end­ed with an admin­is­tra­tive arrest for 10 days, and fines were imposed on media work­ers in two oth­er cas­es. (95 cas­es of deten­tion of jour­nal­ists had been reg­is­tered dur­ing the peak peri­od of civ­il protest actions in March 2017.)

    Despite the end of the wave of mass protest actions by May 2017, the pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists for coop­er­a­tion with for­eign media with­out accred­i­ta­tions con­tin­ued. (The repres­sions resumed after one-year break in March 2017.) Courts imposed 14 fines on jour­nal­ists for the mere fact of appear­ance of their mate­ri­als in for­eign mass media on the grounds of the alleged vio­la­tion of arti­cle 22.9 part 2 of Belarus Code on Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es (‘vio­la­tion of reg­u­la­tions on pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts’) in May – June 2017. The pros­e­cut­ed media work­ers were main­ly free­lance jour­nal­ists, coop­er­at­ing with the ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel (Poland).

    There was con­tin­ued legal inves­ti­ga­tion with­in a crim­i­nal case in rela­tion to three Belaru­sian authors, coop­er­at­ing with a range of Russ­ian news resources – Yury Paulavi­ets, Dzmit­ry Alimkin, and Siarhei Shypten­ka. They are pre­lim­i­nary accused of incit­ing eth­nic hatred (arti­cle 130 of Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus).

    The list of pos­i­tive events in the report­ing peri­od includes the return of nine non-state social-polit­i­cal peri­od­i­cal edi­tions to the state monop­o­list press dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem by sub­scrip­tion and through a net­work of news-stalls. All of them had been oust­ed from the ‘Sayuz­druk’ kiosks and the ‘Bel­posh­ta’ sub­scrip­tion cat­a­logues 11 years before. (See more infor­ma­tion in the pre­vi­ous ana­lyt­i­cal E‑newsletter.)



    Cases of detention of journalists

    Three jour­nal­ists were detained dur­ing the cov­er­age of protest actions in Brest and Homiel on May 1, 2017. One of them, Dzmit­ry Har­bunou from Brest was sen­tenced to 10 days of arrest on admin­is­tra­tive charges for the alleged ‘dis­obe­di­ence to police offi­cers’.

    A free­lance jour­nal­ist from Homiel Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki was detained twice with­in the peri­od. For the first time, he was detained in the town of Buda-Kashalio­va on May 10, 2017. For the sec­ond time, he was detained in Homiel. In the first case, his car was blocked by the police for two hours. In the sec­ond case, he was detained next to his car by the road police offi­cers. Con­se­quent­ly, the jour­nal­ist was fined for coop­er­a­tion with for­eign mass media with­out accred­i­ta­tion as well as for dis­obe­di­ence to the police. More­over, the media work­er was deprived of his driver’s license for 1 year.

    All in all, the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists reg­is­tered 100 cas­es of deten­tion of media work­ers by dif­fer­ent law-enforce­ment author­i­ties with­in the peri­od of Jan­u­ary – July 2017.

    Fines for cooperation with foreign media

    There was con­tin­ued pros­e­cu­tion of Belaru­sian free­lance jour­nal­ists for their coop­er­a­tion with for­eign media with­out accred­i­ta­tion with­in the peri­od under con­sid­er­a­tion. The jour­nal­ists were fined on the base of police reports with the appli­ca­tion of the vague­ly inter­pret­ed legal norm from arti­cle 22.9 part 2 of the Belaru­sian Code on Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es for the alleged ‘vio­la­tion of reg­u­la­tions on pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts’.

    Jour­nal­ists and blog­gers were fined 14 times in May – July 2017 and 27 times in Jan­u­ary – July 2017.

    Since the begin­ning of 2017, free­lance jour­nal­ists from Homiel Larysa Shchyrako­va and Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki were fined 4 and 5 times respec­tive­ly for the total sum of EUR 3700. The sum is com­pa­ra­ble with the approx­i­mate annu­al salary in Belarus).

    A civ­il activist Yuliya Malysha­va was brought to admin­is­tra­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty for stream­ing a video-report in defense of ani­mals in the ‘Odnok­lass­ni­ki’ social media.

    A jour­nal­ist from Mahilou Uladz­imir Lapt­se­vich was fined for a pub­li­ca­tion in the ‘Niva’ news­pa­per (Poland), despite the obvi­ous fact that he had nei­ther pro­duced, nor dis­trib­uted pro­duc­tion of this media out­let (either the newspaper’s print-run or a part of the print-run, accord­ing to the Belarus Law ‘On Mass Media’) that is required for bring­ing a per­son to legal respon­si­bil­i­ty on the base of arti­cle 22.9 of Belarus Code on Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es.

    Criminal prosecution for the alleged ‘incitement of ethnic hatred’

    The Belaru­sian authors of sev­er­al Russ­ian news resources – Yury Paulavi­ets, Dzmit­ry Alimkin, and Siarhei Shypten­ka – have been kept in cus­tody since Decem­ber 2016. All of them have been pre­lim­i­nary accused of com­mit­ting ‘inten­tion­al acts … by a group of indi­vid­u­als aimed at incite­ment of nation­al and oth­er social hos­til­i­ty’ (arti­cle 130, part 3 of Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus) that pro­vides for a penal­ty of impris­on­ment for a term of 5 to 12 years. The crim­i­nal cas­es were filed on the base of appeals, sent by the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus to the Legal Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus. The Min­is­te­r­i­al offi­cials found signs of extrem­ism in the authors’ pub­li­ca­tions.  

    ‘Reporters with­out bor­ders’ (RSF) not­ed that “the posts of these three blog­gers are con­tro­ver­sial but that does not jus­ti­fy their impris­on­ment… Accord­ing to inter­na­tion­al stan­dards, their pro­vi­sion­al deten­tion is nei­ther nec­es­sary nor pro­por­tion­ate.”



    Freedom House: Positive trends noticed in the field of press freedom in Belarus

    Accord­ing to Free­dom House, Belarus has left the list of coun­tries with the worst sit­u­a­tion with free­dom of speech. Although the coun­try is still treat­ed as a non-free state, it has col­lect­ed 9 neg­a­tive points less in com­par­i­son with the pre­vi­ous year (83 points vs. 91 points last year out of 100 pos­si­ble, where ‘0’ shows the best sit­u­a­tion and ‘100’ shows the worst sit­u­a­tion).

    Free­dom House not­ed that jour­nal­ists were able to cov­er the Par­lia­men­tary elec­tion – 2016 with con­sid­er­ably less obsta­cles that before. How­ev­er, they also point­ed to the fact that the gov­ern­men­tal author­i­ties con­tin­ued to apply the exist­ing legal base for their pres­sure on the crit­i­cal jour­nal­ism, pros­e­cut­ing jour­nal­ists on the alleged charges of defama­tion, incite­ment of hatred, extrem­ism, and ille­gal pro­duc­tion of media con­tent.

    Rating List of Openness of Belarusian Authorities

    The Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists inquired col­leagues about the degree of dif­fi­cul­ty in get­ting infor­ma­tion from the main gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and orga­ni­za­tions.

    50 authors of lead­ing state and non-state peri­od­i­cal edi­tions took part in the sur­vey, includ­ing ‘Sovi­et­skaya Byelorus­sia’, ‘Zvi­az­da’, ‘Nasha Niva’, ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’, TUT.BY, Bela­PAN etc. On the one hand, the best feed­back remarks were giv­en to the Min­istry of Extreme Sit­u­a­tions, the court sys­tem of Belarus, the Min­istry of Sports and Tourism, as well as the Min­istry of Forestry. On the oth­er hand, the jour­nal­ists treat­ed the Oper­a­tive and Ana­lyt­i­cal Cen­tre at the Pres­i­den­tial Office, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion, and the KGB as the least open gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies for media work­ers.

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